Leading article: Were those huskies hugged in vain?

Share

When did David Cameron betray the green cause? This might be an A-level politics question in years to come. Was it when the departure from Downing Street of Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister's strategy adviser who devised "vote blue, go green", was announced last week? Was it when Chris Huhne stood down as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change last month? Or was it when George Osborne, the Chancellor, said, "We're going to cut our carbon emissions no slower, but also no faster, than our fellow countries in Europe", in his party conference speech last October?

In his first interview as Mr Huhne's replacement, Ed Davey tells us today: "Let no one be under any illusion, I am completely committed to the ambition for this to be the greenest government ever." Well, the new Climate Change Secretary must forgive us for wondering what is illusion and what reality.

We do not doubt his sincerity or his ability, but, under the British constitution, a coalition is an imperfect constraint on prime ministerial power. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, discovered the truth of this in its most stark form in the early hours of a morning in December, when he was telephoned to be told that Mr Cameron had said "no" to the European fiscal union. Mr Davey must know that his ambition to "transform the energy and climate change position of the country" will count for nothing if the Prime Minister has lost interest, or if the Prime Minister's interest is intermittent and headline-driven. As Mr Davey tells us today, in relation to balancing energy costs against conservation: "It's easy to say but difficult to do." And impossible to do without sustained prime ministerial support.

Sadly, it would seem that Mr Cameron's greenery was mere pre-election positioning, and the "greenest government ever" pledge the product of post-election euphoria. This newspaper feared as much, but we were prepared to give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt, partly because the Labour Party provided such a grey alternative. At the election, the main difference between the parties was that the Tories promised not to build a third runway at Heathrow. This gave Mr Cameron just enough green cover to carry off his opposition husky-hugging hustle.

Since the election, however, the green rhetoric has faded, despite aggressive attempts by Mr Huhne to keep the colour toner cartridge filled. Economic austerity has been used as an excuse by Mr Osborne for eschewing a leadership role for Britain in developing low-carbon technology. If Mr Cameron really wanted to show leadership, the recession could have been a green opportunity, because lower economic activity will have cut carbon emissions and made it easier to hit carbon reduction targets, while insulation work would have been a better stimulus to the labour market than unpaid work experience in supermarkets.

Unfortunately, in the absence of green leadership from the Prime Minister, the centre of gravity of the Conservative Party has been sliding back to climate-change scepticism. This retoxification is surprising, given the central role in Downing Street played by Steve Hilton, who was the guru of green Toryism in opposition. But, as John Rentoul points out today, Mr Hilton has joined the sceptics, telling friends that he is "not convinced" that global warming is caused by human activity.

Perhaps, then, his departure for the land of high energy consumption might be good news for green policy? We think it unlikely. In his speech to the Conservative spring conference yesterday, Mr Cameron seemed to be trying to offset the departure of his impatient reform-minded adviser by claiming that he did not come into politics to "play it safe". But beyond saying "we have got to reform the planning system" – which implies an Osbornian view that growth and greenery are in conflict and that growth must take priority – the environment failed to get a mention.

All is not lost, if only because Mr Cameron should be embarrassed to be so obviously reneging on such extravagant promises so publicly made. But the Prime Minister needs to face down the backward-looking elements in his party who reject the science of climate change. Indeed, if this government is to have any claim to be green at all, he must give the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change his full and consistent support.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage  

A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next

Simon Usborne
Ed Balls has ruled out a return to politics - for now  

For Labour to now turn round and rubbish what it stood for damages politics even more

Ian Birrell
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?